Determined Cleverley hopes to dodge another injury bullet

June 20, 2012 Tags: Opinion 20 comments

For a career still in its infancy, Tom Cleverley’s already become a paradox. For all the youngster’s inexperience, Cleverley will start the forthcoming season as his fifth in senior professional football. Still in the throes of youth, yet the Basingstoke-born midfielder turns 23 in August. For all the talk of ‘brand Cleverley’ the player is yet to win a trophy at the highest level. And despite the belief that the kid can replace Paul Scholes as Manchester United’s creative force, Cleverley is yet to complete a full campaign as a player.

It is a career of immense promise, as yet unfulfilled by consistent performances, or some may add, an injury-free run with four different clubs. Indeed, the talented 22-year-old faces a pivotal coming season having missed out on much of the previous campaign with an ankle injury, and England’s Euro 2012 party too. No longer can Cleverley afford to stand still, wait on the sidelines, or – the nightmare scenario – the physiotherapist’s bench.

Despite the limited appearances in a United shirt to date – just 15 in competitive matches – Cleverley made his club debut on the Reds’ pre-season tour of South Africa in July 2008, converting Wayne Rooney’s knock-down for United’s third goal in a 4-0 win over Kaizer Chiefs in Johannesburg.

The summer tour proved not to be the breakthrough into Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team though, with the 2007/08 Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award nominee farmed out to Leicester City on loan in January 2009. After 15 appearances for the Tigers Cleverley’s loan spell came to an abrupt end when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury; the first of many.

The following campaign Cleverley joined Watford, scoring 11 times in 33 games for the Championship outfit before suffering a knee injury and yet another premature end to the season.

Another loan, this time to Wigan Athletic during the 2010/11 season, came after Cleverley had joined the Reds’ summer tour to the United States, and Ferguson’s assertion that the youngster would remain at Old Trafford. Yet, the loan spell at Wigan proved to be successful, if blighted – once again – by niggling injuries. Four goals in 25 appearances followed in a frustratingly stop-start season.

It has been the pattern of a young career; talent interrupted. Indeed, Cleverley began the 2011/12 season with Ferguson’s first team, coming on to such devastating effect during the Community Shield, and then in games against West Bromwich Albion, and Arsenal, before injury struck once again against Bolton Wanderers. An abortive comeback against Everton in September only succeeded in aggravating the problem, essentially ending Cleverley’s season as a first team regular.

“I’d hate to be getting the injury-prone tag because the injuries I’ve had have all been contact, impact or reckless tackles,” said Cleverley who has suffered a broken leg, serious knee, ankle and shoulder injuries.

“It’s not like I’m picking up hamstring injuries or thigh injuries all the time. Hopefully I’m getting all the bad luck out at the start of my career and I can go on to play as long as Giggsy – he’s the perfect example.

“The first couple of weeks was just basically resting and staying off my feet That helped massively. Then I got back into the gym from then for about two months and worked massively hard with Neil Hough, Rob Swire, the doc and the hard work paid off. I definitely filled out a bit.

“When you’re not on the pitch you can work on other areas. I did work with video analysis, I worked hard in the gym on my upper body and I did vision work too. It’s a fantastic training ground because you can work hard on all aspects of your game when you’re injured. Everything I could work on, I worked on. I’ve done everything I can while I’ve been out.”

Yet, Cleverley’s hard work in the gym is yet to nullify criticism of  ‘brand TC23’  and the player’s commercial aspirations during a lengthy period on the sidelines. The midfielder appointed a brand consultancy last season to develop commercial revenue, while a Twitter handle that boasts more than 500,000 followers offers regular updates on the player’s sponsors – on one occasion five commercial messages in succession.

Add the glamour model girlfriends, lurid newspaper stories – one later brought to court – and there is legitimate reason to question the player’s commitment; a charge Cleverley patently rejects.

Still, there is pressing need to deliver on the pitch in the coming season if a talented player’s progress is not to be stilted. He cannot afford another 15-20 game season. Yet, the summer acquisitions of Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa and Crewe Alexandra’s Nick Powell add significant competition, even if the latter is likely to start the new campaign with the reserves.

Kagawa, however, is a serious barrier to Cleverley’s potential game time in the attacking midfield position in Ferguson’s likely 4-2-3-1 system next season. The England international may instead compete with Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Anderson for a spot in central midfield or, worse, be shunted out to the wing.

Moreover, it is a challenge that may be affected by a call up to Great Britain’s Olympic squad, with the youngster believed to be on Stuart Pearce’s long-list of 35 players.

“The Olympics in London is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so to be involved would be a massive thing for me,” Cleverley said recently.

“It’s a massive event, one of the highlights of the summer, and the Olympics in London is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so to be involved would be a massive thing for me. An Olympic gold would be special because it’s so unique.”

Sir Alex, who has banned any over-age players bar Ryan Giggs joining up with the Olympic squad, may disagree. And if inclusion in the party comes at the expense of missing the opening games of the new season, Cleverley may have course to regret it too.


yi - June 20, 2012 Reply

I’ve never really seen Cleverley having the type of role that Kagawa will have at United. I just can’t see him being a good fit for a behind the striker position.

I’ve thought for quite a while now that Cleverley is more like the replacement for Carrick. Ok – he’s not exactly like Carrick, he lacks the defensive skills but he is more mobile and adventurous. But I can quite easily see Cleverley fulfilling the ‘keep things ticking over’ role, where he recieves the ball from defense and makes the passes to the more creative players. I don’t think he is outright talented enough to play behind a striker,

Ed - June 20, 2012 Reply

yi – yes, I think that’s essentially what I’m saying. He’s going to play in the ‘2’…. not as ’10’. But that’s a crowded space at United. Carrick, Scholes, Anderson, Fletcher(?), Giggs, Park…. lots of players. Not always lots of quality.

Alfonso Bedoya - June 20, 2012 Reply

Brand Cleverly will soon become a joke if he’s not careful… I doubt very much if he’s getting calls from “Nike”, “Jaguar”, or “Coke”… probably more like “Ma Burks Home Made Cabbage Spread” or, “Hey pssst Taxis” and “Big Joes Southern Fried Pizza”…

He’s going to have to make a proper name for himself ON the pitch, before anyone important off it, gives a shit.

Clive - June 21, 2012 Reply

All this TC23 crap really is a massive mistake for the guy who clearly has ideas above his station, but maybe he’s just a victim of the awful celebrity culture as many footballers are – he’s a bit of a laughing stock because of it, but I have to say he was comfortably Man Utds best player in my opinion at the beginning of last season and I felt he was underused big time when he finally did get back to fitness – but Fergie’s worship of Giggs and Park put paid to that…

Denton Davey - June 21, 2012 Reply

He looks like being the “replacement” for Paul Scholes – BUT that assumes that the GingerNinja ever retires !

In basketball, there are players called “tweeners” – basically guys who are big guards or small forwards but, really, not quite right for either role. It seems to me that YoungTom is labouring under the same kind of label in that he’s not big enough to be a “defensive midfielder” or, seemingly, skilful enough to be the “attacking midfielder” like those little Barcelona maestros. I’d like to be proven wrong about this but……..

GazNo77 - June 21, 2012 Reply

I think a run at the Olympics would be good for Cleverley — he really needs football and considering he missed a lot of it last season, I can’t imagine he’d be overly tired with a few games under his belt

max - June 21, 2012 Reply

I believe in this kid and I’m sure he’ll be back to his best nest season if he can stay fit and if Fergie gives him a chance
Good luck lad
There’s no doubt he’s a top, top talent. Make it count now

uncleknobheadforfucksake - June 21, 2012 Reply

hed nothing special but we’re better to watch when he’s in the side

Bill - June 21, 2012 Reply

In terms of our central midfield options Carrick takes one spot.

Scholes heads the list for the other in rotation with Cleverley, Anderson & Giggs.

Kagawa, Powell & Rooney to play no 10.

Anderson & Cleverley probably can be counted on for 1/2 a season each taking their injury history into account.

Charmingman93 - June 21, 2012 Reply

I think if Fergie has given Anderson all these chances, we can be sure he’ll give Cleverly the chance too. He’s made it to the first team, he won’t have to wait long to get more games. Park is retiring after this season I think, and Scholes too, possibly Giggs. That means he’ll get his chance finally.

Alfonso Bedoya - June 21, 2012 Reply

One of the reasons Anderson got so many chances is because he cost a lot… but even that won’t save him if we sign another decent midfielder this year.

Cleverly, and his media chasing attitude won’t get near as much leeway, if he doesn’t pull his finger out.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - June 21, 2012 Reply

three reasons we won’t sell anderson, he’s young, wed have to take massive hit, the off chance he makes it somewhere else wed look like cocks

Andrew - June 22, 2012 Reply

Agree. The phat cunt is staying. Particularly for the last reason. Herb, level with me, when’s Lukey Modric coming?

Steve - June 21, 2012 Reply

Saw Kagawa play in Brisbane for Japan against Australia. IMHO Kagawa is similar to Cleverley, there’s flashes of skill and speed on the ball but he is not a finisher, not a no 10. He seemed to drift out of the game against Australia which really be could have ran on his own if he wanted. I’m not convinced but hope to be wrong.

Ed - June 22, 2012 Reply

Steve – he plays almost exclusively at ’10’ for Dortmund, but in a much wider role for Japan – making room for Honda through the centre. Pretty good goalscoring record at club level.

Abba - June 22, 2012 Reply

The probjem is that alex is trying to gamble again using kagawa/roo/chicha/welback up front and using our current midfielders to see if it works out

marlon - June 23, 2012 Reply

If we play 3 in the middle with 2 behind Kagawa, that reduces the workload/responsibilities of the two behind. With Kagawa coming from a team which plays a high tempo pressing game, the rest of the team are not going to have to ‘carry’ him to the extent in which we support Giggs when he plays behind the striker. The fact is having 3 in the middle means that you don’t need a Keane/Toure/Schweinsteiger in the side – 3 are less likely to get caught out of position, exposed, overrun etc. There will be less focus on our CMs – each can play a more limited/specialised role.

Fact is we won’t buy at CM without selling.

ja - June 23, 2012 Reply

“I’d hate to be getting the injury-prone tag because the injuries I’ve had have all been contact, impact or reckless tackles,”

Seems to me he needs to get more streetwise, leave his foot in as a tackle comes in, hurt players, let the know you wont be kicked out of a game the way Giles, Law and many others have done over the years to protect themselves. Develop a sixth sense of when a bad tackle is coming and either evade it or get the retaliation in first. Until he does, he is going to keep getting caught with ‘reducers’

Mongoletsi - July 4, 2012 Reply

Maybe Taggart’s thinking of a 4-3-3, with him and Rooney moving about a lot, one or both dropping back to a 4-3-2-1

I don’t usually spout guesses at this kind of thing but maybe he’s recalling those glorious seasons of Rooney, Ronnie, and Scumbaghamsterfacejudastwat causing havoc, with the likes of Fletch, Carrick, Scholes etc behind them. That was ace.

One problem… he’s no Ronaldo.

Mongoletsi - July 4, 2012 Reply

Arse. Wrong article.

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